Studying Arabic in Cairo — دراسة اللغة العربية في القاهرة

Cairo is a completely magical (albeit chaotic and occasionally maddening) city, and it’s a great place to study Arabic. A friend recently asked me to recommend a good program to study Arabic in Cairo this summer, and I thought the resulting list might be a useful resource for some of you as well. What follows is a list (in no way comprehensive, in no particular order) of a number of summer and year-round Arabic programs in Cairo that friends and I recommend:

1. International Language Institute (ILI)

ILI has a reputation for being very professional and hosting great teachers. Many of my friends attended ILI and were impressed with the programs offered and the quality of instruction. They have classes in both Fusha and 3meya or a combined program with several hours of each 5 days a week. The school is $550 for a four week course with 15 classroom hours per week, but worth the cost according to those who attended their programs (I did not personally). It’s just off the far end of Ahmed Orabi street in Mohandiseen, so walkable from Zamalek and there are buses/microbuses from Zamalek and Kubri al-Dokki that will take you most of the way there.

For more information:

2. Al Diwaan Arabic Center

Al Diwaan is in Garden City, next to the Canadian Embassy, just across the bridge from Zamalek. They offer group study (if you can form a group with equal language levels) or solo classes, and you can arrange a course schedule that caters to your needs. The teachers are all certified and have degrees in education or Arabic. Classes are generally conducted in Arabic but the teachers speak functional English. You can focus on what you want to learn, and classes can be created to focus on particular topics of interest like literature or media. The management can be ditzy, but but after registration you can deal just with your teacher. Prices are high to mid-range; it’s around $900 for a one month summer intensive program with 90 classroom hours and 10 hours of activities. The facilities are nice.

For more information:

3. Arabic Language Institute, American University in Cairo

ALI is located about an hour from downtown Cairo in a suburb called Tegamo El Khameis on the beautiful AUC New Campus. There is a bus service provided by AUC (with air conditioning and wi-fi!) that goes out to the campus and back from all areas of Cairo. It is perhaps the most expensive and farthest away program, but also the most well-reputed internationally. The quality of teaching is impressive, and joining the ALI program gives you access to the other resources available at the university (printing, library, professional contacts, bus transportation, gym, swimming pool, etc.) AUC offers both intensive and regular classes, usually between 2 and 5 days per week for 2 to 4 hours.

For more information:

4. Arabeya Arabic School

Arabeya is located in Mohandeseen just across the Nile from Zamalek on a side street off of Ahmed Orabi. They specialize in one-on-one classes, but they also have summer programs and small group classes. They are super flexible with scheduling; you can take classes as intensively as you’d like (up to 4 hours a day 6 days a week) anytime between 8am and 4pm. They have about 8 teachers there and if you happen to not jive with 1 teacher, you can switch to another one. One-to-one classes are about $240 for an intensive 20 classroom hour week, and prices get cheaper if you stay longer or join a small group.

For more information:

5. Private Lessons

Many people who study Arabic in Cairo choose to take private lessons, since prices are so reasonable, and they give considerably more flexibility in terms of content, pacing, location, and level.

My private instructor for the last two years, Nermine Sayed, is phenomenal, and I recommend her without reservation. She has been teaching Arabic for many years and structures helpful lessons based on what you want to learn. She can teach Fusha or 3meya, and is flexible about where and when you meet. She speaks great English, but classes are conducted in Arabic unless explaining a complicated grammatical concept. Classes are casual and friendly, but she does assign homework and take your language development seriously. Generally, she charges 75 LE (roughly $10) per hour, although rates may vary depending on how often you want to meet. You can contact her at: or +20 (0) 1009300887.

A friend of mine has also recommended his private Arabic instructor, Wael Wafa. Wael graduated from Al-Azhar University with a degree in Arabic Language Teaching, and he has worked for the past 10 years teaching Arabic, both Fusha and 3meya. He charges 50 LE (roughly $7) per hour. You can contact him at: or +20 (0) 1001516022.

Interview with a 6th Grader in Giza

Last week I interviewed Nasr Sherif, a 12 year old living in the Haram [Pyramid] neighborhood of Giza. He is the cousin of the son of my former landlord, attends a public school and only speaks a few words of English. Most of the questions come from a 6th grade class in Portland that I have been blogging with, and I am still working on the transcript of the interview. But here is a video I made of him and his really sweet siblings/cousins. Special thanks to Ahmed Nasr, my former landlord, for introducing and translating. All mistakes and pronunciation errors are my own.

Football in Jerusalem

My Arabic intensive course has now completed week one. Originally I was signed up for the intermediate Arabic course at Hebrew University, but it was cancelled due to low enrollment so I have switched to the colloquial intensive. The Arabic spoken in Jerusalem is part of the Levantine Arabic dialect, which is spoken in Palestine/Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Specifically, we are learning an urban Jerusalem dialect and although it would be understood well in the countries mentioned above, there are even significant differences in lexicon and pronunciation in the West Bank, Gaza and up north in Galilee. The course is about ten students and is six to eight hours a day (five days a week), including breaks. It is split up between three teachers we rotate through each day and then a guest lecturer once a week about the history of the language in the region. Two of the teachers are Israeli and focus more on grammar and vocabulary, and the third teacher is Palestinian and her teaching is entirely conversational. So far the days have not seemed long at all and I think this is largely because the day is split up into three different teaching styles. It has also been fascinating to observe the (sometimes tenuous) relationship between Modern Standard Arabic and colloquial Arabic.

Because I had to switch courses so late, I had a week of unexpected free time before my course began. I took a trip to the Palestinian Christian town of Birzeit, which is outside of Ramallah in the West Bank where the 5th Rozana Heritage Festival was taking place. The small town has a beautiful old city which is exceptionally free of garbage compared to Jerusalem. Palestinians in the West Bank are so far either much more inclined to “play along” with me when I try and speak Arabic or really don’t speak any English which has been an excellent test. The free week also coincided with the end of the Euro Cup and, since I am staying near a substantial population of lively German volunteers and workers, all the games were watched outside with a projector and much cheering and booing. Also present at the games were many bottles of Taybeh beer, the only Palestinian beer. Early tomorrow morning a few of us will drive to their brewery for a tour, a small hike outside the town, and a complimentary beverage of “the Finest in the Middle East.”

Below is a little travelogue video of the past week featuring nuns, football, snakes, fire, etc.

My first week in Amman

my view of Amman - near the Jordanian University

I arrived in Amman, Jordan about a week ago, and I have already had too many adventures to tell! The first three days here were spent doing a crash-course on orienting ourselves to Jordanian life, culture, and language. On the first day we were immersed with an orientation and a 2-hour session with Jordanian speaking partners. This session involved learning how to find our way back to our home for the next 2 months–that is, the American Center for Oriental Research in Amman. ACOR is an old institution and has played a significant role in archaeological work in the region, among other things. We learned directions such as; “turn left,” “turn right,” “turn around,” and “go straight.” We also learned the important words for bridge, tunnel, and roundabout, of which there are many. Amman is a city of “circles”–the main roundabouts labeled first through eighth.  Like in many other cities in the Middle East, streets in Amman are not based on a grid system at all and generally the streets do not have names, or at least the names are not used. I’m not even sure if the street I live on now has a name at all. Directions are given in terms of landmarks. After our first speaking session, two other students and I were pushed out of our comfy nest and had to get in a taxi (by ourselves) and direct our taxi driver in Arabic to a restaurant determined by our speaking partner. I guess you learn most quickly when you need to! Luckily, we made it to the restaurant, where we ate a delicious snack of kanafa – a Jordanian pastry dessert made with a lot of cheese, oil, butter and sugar. I have a feeling my figure may change while I’m here.

Kunafah pastry dessert

Amman street

The CLS program planned a few more adventures for us during our initial time here, including a trip a couple days ago to As-Salt, a historic city that used to be the capital of Jordan. There, we visited the Historic Old Salt Museum, located at the Abu Jaber house at the center of town. The museum was large and elaborate, with tons of information about the history of Salt. I was surprised at how extensive the museum was, as well as how nicely done the rooms and posters were put together. After the museum tour, our large group of 40 broke up into smaller groups to go off and explore the city on our own. Two others and I  decided to follow the “Salt Heritage Trail,” which was on a map given to us by the museum staff. This self-guided tour of important Salt buildings was a bit strange. The buildings on the map were not only historic, but they were also mostly occupied by residents! They are not museum buildings that you can tour inside, because they are still homes to Salti people. We quickly discovered this after knocking on a couple doors and meeting confused people wondering why we would possible want to go into their house. We walked all around the city, marveling at the beautiful sights.

a view of Salt, Jordan

After the first three days of orientation, our Arabic classes officially began. The CLS program in Amman works through the Qasid Institute, and every week day (Sunday through Thursday here) we have 2 hours of fusHa (modern standard/written Arabic), 1 hour of ‘amiyya (spoken, colloquial/dialect Arabic), and 1 hour of media Arabic. I was placed in one of the advanced sections, which is extremely difficult. At this level, we spend most of our time in fusHa and media Arabic reading news articles. This week we focused on a highly topical issue, al-intikhabat al-masriyya–the Egyptian elections (my reaction to the elections would be an entirely different post, so I won’t go into it). The teachers speak only in Arabic to us, and new vocabulary words are explained in Arabic. This was a bit shocking at first, and I’m still struggling a bit to understand the exact meaning of some words, but it is definitely an excellent way to really get the language into your head when it’s constantly in your ears. On the first day of class, we signed the infamous “Language Pledge,” which says that we will only speak in Arabic for the next two months.

Our latest adventure outside of class was a trip to wasat al-balad, or the downtown area of Amman. This area has tons of shops, restaurants, and also houses a large mosque and the old Roman theatre. The trip was required as a “language socialization” activity, which is a requirement of CLS that encourages us to go out into the city and speak to locals in Arabic about certain topics. We were given a list of possible places to visit–including the Hamoudeh DVD shop, sweets store, a bookstore, gold souq, vegetable market, and more. We only made it to a couple places, my favorite of which was the DVD/CD shop, where you can find any film on DVD that you could possible want, each for 1 Jordanian dinar (~$1.40). I bought the movie “City of Life,” made in Dubai, along with seven CDs of Arab singers, like Nancy Ajram, Amr Diab, Elissa, Tamer Hosny, etc. I can’t wait to listen to them all. The downtown area is exciting and a great place to be immersed in Arabic, because everyone around is Jordanian. I will definitely be going back, to visit the Roman threater and explore the shops and restaurants more.

Wasat al-balad - downtown Amman

Hamoudeh DVD - any film you want, you can find it here!

halwiyat - Arabic sweets